Tuesday, October 31, 2017

It Can Happen 10/31/17

It Can Happen…..
It can happen….second chances. Yes, they really do exist. While you WILL have to work harder than ever to get it, it can be done. Kelly is your proof. 
Kelly was released from CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) October of 2015. The last six months of her sentence working for CAL Fire, fighting the California Wildfires. I thought that would be the hardest part of her sentence. Well, I didn’t realize being home would be almost as hard. The confusion of having your “own” house and bed. Being able to actually go places. You would think it would be all bliss. No, not quite. Also, dealing with an “over-zealous” probation officer with immediate job requirements. The odds of success can be really stacked against you. I honestly did not realize how overwhelming it could be. 
Once Kelly started to get her routine again, she started applying for jobs again. I can remember her being excited about certain jobs, but always worrying which job application would have “the box”. The box to check if you had been convicted of a felony. I know that she would leave that blank with the hope to make it to the next “round” of the application. Then, if asked, would try and explain the situation. She applied for quite a few jobs. She eventually landed a full time position. We waited on edge for her background check to come through. Then a crazy thing happened, her offer letter came through. It was amazing ! We didn’t hear another word about a background check for quite a while. She started work and was doing great ! 6 months in, there was a rumor. Somebody heard her name outside of work that knew of her past and mentioned to an employee of the company she worked at and did they know that she had been to prison. That employee felt the need to share it with the “higher ups”. Then all hell broke loose. Come to find out someone “slipped” up and the background was never done. The decision to keep or remove Kelly went before the board of directors. What’s crazy is she wasn’t even in a management position, I believe they were very nervous that there might me a legal issue. Well, it didn’t matter, there was no way they wanted a “felon” on their payroll. Kelly was let go. It was the first time I felt like maybe there was no second chance. Maybe it would always be this way. A lot of people view felons all the same. Violent, non-violent, doesn’t matter. Bad, always bad. Unless they have been affected by incarceration, they really don’t understand it seems.  
Depression started to creep in for Kelly. There were some tough times for a couple months. Went through a couple of temporary jobs. One of the staffing agencies that she went through found out about her background. I believe they were a bit puzzled. Kelly had received very positive feedback from one of their clients. The agency sat down with Kelly and talked to her about it. They didn’t think twice and kept finding her jobs. Eventually, they found her a great job ! They didn’t give up on her and Kelly never gave up on herself. Yes, it can be hard to find that company or person that just cares about good hard work, but they are out there. Just need to keep trying.

 It has been quite a while since Kelly started this job. She has been doing great ! Even went back to school and will receive her degree sometime next year. In between applying for jobs, Kelly would reach out to some of the women she was incarcerated with. She would help them with legal issues or help them fill out the right forms they needed. She also started getting questions from people reading our blog (www.orangeisthenewblog.com) . Some had questions on the process of incarceration, what to expect, or how she was able to get through it. Kelly ended up reaching out to them and helping when they needed help. She has made the most out of the situation. We both continue to try our best and help others. Kelly is working on starting a non-profit to help female ex-felons to work on resumes, find work, get their GED's among many other things. She feels she was given a chance for that second chance, now it's her turn to give back. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Time to Get Educated, Bridging the Gap of inequality in America!

The big inequality debate, and how do we fix it? How do we bridge the gap of the social injustice and racism in the US today? This was asked at the first presidential debate and neither candidate answered the question. Hilary danced around it with generic answers and Trump avoided it all together by being way off topic.
They either don’t know how to fix it or they don’t want to fix it. History shows they don’t want to fix it! Election year after election year all you hear from politicians is how they are going to help save our poor communities, our African American communities our Hispanic communities, but year after year they do nothing, we never see results. Why because they really don’t want to fix anything, or make anything better, the politicians have to ensure to keep social inequality and social injustice alive and well so they can insure that they stay rich and powerful.
The rich are greedily taking control of the world’s wealth at the expense of the poor and middle class. They hire armies of lobbyists to influence government policies to help them keep their wealth growing while the rest of the county struggles to make ends meet. The wealthy continue to make more and more money while everyone else is making less and as the income inequality gap grows there are more and more of us out there that are fed up and want to see some change.
We outnumber the rich, if we band together, stand united and fight back against the greed, and corruption of the super-wealthy we can try and end the cycle of poverty that seems to become harder and harder to escape, but the rich already know this, they can’t afford the poor and middle class to band together and fight back. They can’t risk losing the power, the control, and their money; so they have to cause chaos, and hatred among us. If they divide us and we continue to fight each other, they continue to win. They continue to keep us down, and while we struggle and fight each other they get richer and more powerful by the day.
We need to end this madness, stand together, strong and united stop fighting just the racial injustice and start fighting the social economic injustice that is plaguing this county and if we do we will start to see an end to the racial injustice and oppression we are suffering. The answer to the question that was asked tonight during the debate, how do be bridge the gap? We start by education, educating our youth, cleaning up the streets, safe neighborhoods, nice schools; it’s time to give our poor communities, our poor youth a chance at a future. We need to focus on education; we put an end to mass incarceration, stop punishing poverty. Our mass incarceration is not so much on the specific crimes committed or race of the defendant, but the lack of money to hire an influential lawyer, to pay your way out of trouble.
The reason we never see change is because THE RICH GET RICHER UNTIL THE POOR GET EDUCATED!






Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Life of a Fire Camper Spouse 2015

Life as a FireCamper Spouse

Even before my Wife was sentenced to prison, she had decided that she wanted to qualify to go to fire camp. She knew she could get a reduced sentence and could possibly be closer to home. She also knew about the extreme physical requirements. She was willing and able. So, after the process of County Jail, Receiving (Classification), she was sent to CIW (California Institute For Women) in Corona, CA. That’s where she would train and be tested to see if she would qualify for Fire Camp. She had a very low security level, so that was not a problem. It was the physical training that she was concerned about. She actually started training on her own before the actually “fire camp training” started. It helped. Tons of cardio. She also made sure that she stayed away from certain foods and stayed constantly hydrated. The training provided by the prison was done by an inmate that was a personal trainer before her incarceration. As my Wife put it “I like her, she doesn’t put up with the whiney women”. The training was to get you ready for the actual PFT (Cal Fire Test). My Wife also told me that about half of the inmates trying out for fire camp were there just to get out of the normal day to day prison duties. But, once the workouts started, those there to “kick back” were quickly sent back to where they came. My Wife had heard that if you ended up being “Top Hiker” of your class, you could pick which camp you wanted to go to. Being from San Diego, she really had three places she would be sent, Rainbow (Fallbrook), Malibu, or Puerta La Cruz (Warner Springs). Her top pick was Rainbow. Rainbow was less than an hour drive for us. So, she made that her goal. She was telling me, most of the women wanted to go to Malibu. So, that was good too. She was so driven to get that “Top Hiker”. So, a couple of weeks went by. She worked so hard. Became “friends” with another would be camper. A few of the women were getting angry and frustrated with my Wife. Saying, she was trying to make them “look bad”. They did not matter to my Wife. Bottom line, she was there to get as close to her family as possible. As she always said “Her eyes were on the prize”. In the end, she made “Top Hiker”. Even as an “Inmate”, the Fire Captains respected her. So, she chose Rainbow Conservation Camp. We were overjoyed ! Everything would change for us. No more VPASS (Scheduling for prison visits), driving 2 hours to see her, razor wire, vending machines, and the smell of urine as you wait to for your name to be called. This was a totally different world. A “normal” feel. A “human” feel. Visits are on the weekend. 9:30am - 3pm. Way out in the back country. The only fences there are a “ranch style” fence to keep wildlife out. You are visiting in an area that looks exactly like a campground. Benches under oak trees, barbecues, and a play area for kids. The camp is run by Cal Fire. There is minimal law enforcement. The 2 correctional officers my Son and I met on our first visit were so cool. Very friendly and helpful. Again, I will use the term “human”. I say that, because when he had visited her at County and CIW, it was awful. It was almost like the CO’s tried to make sure you never came back. So, it was nice. After checking in, seeing my Wife walk as fast as she can (no running) to come see us was awesome ! She was dressed in bright orange pants, with “prisoner” down the leg and a bright orange long sleeve shirt. Along with the standard huge, tall, black forest boots. My Son had lots of questions for her. Do you get hot wearing that ? Are those boots comfortable ? What do you eat ? It was cool. What was also cool, was that you could bring in food for your loved one. You could bring in food to barbecue too. Fast food, homemade food, snacks, and drinks (water / Soda). etc. 
They are also allowed 2-3 calls a week, 15 minutes each. Sounds and is way better than the mainstream crap she came from. It was a privilege to be there. If you screwed up there (fighting, drugs, attitude with CO’s) you got shipped back to the mainstream immediately. My Wife saw a few of these. The privilege to be there was constantly “paid” for by extremely hard work. Speaking of pay, while out fighting fires, the inmates get around $1.00 an hour. While at camp waiting to be sent out, inmates get less than $2.00 a day. They save the state of CA millions of dollars in labor costs. Extreme cheap labor traded for 2 for 1 credits. I’m sure every one of those women in camp will say they have never worked harder in their lives, including my Wife. I have become color blind. Every time I have gone to visit her, I don’t even notice the orange. These women made a mistake and to me have stepped up and are really helping firefighters. They ARE firefighters. The wildfires here in CA could not be fought without the help of these men and women. 

I would say the only drawback about having a loved one in fire camp is you never know when they will leave for a fire. Well, unless you are visiting and the siren goes off. That’s happened twice so far. That, is very hard to see. They get up, run off and get all their gear. You just stand and watch as they line up for a count and briefing. Then they will line up to head to the bus. You hope for a quick glimpse and wave before they leave. Definitely has left me very emotional. If you’re not there when they leave, you figure it out during the week when the calls aren’t coming in. One of the last fires she was on, she was gone for about 40 days. That was actually a new record for Rainbow. As she described to me, nerves were frayed and tempers ran high towards the end of that. But, another cool thing for them, they have their mail brought to them wherever they are and they can send mail out. That was our main communication during the 40 day outing. Mail only take 2-3 days to get to and from the campers. Which is wonderful. CIW was taking 7-14 days. Being a couple days off of communication wasn’t bad. Depending on the day they came back, you might not hear from them unless you actually visit them. You would call the day before or same morning you plan your visit. You can’t ask if they are there though. It’s “Can you tell me if crew 5 is in ?” Your answer is usually a “Yes” or “No” and that’s it. The stories Kelly came back with were amazing. Sleeping on the side of a mountain, wrapping telephone poles as the fire is shooting up the hill towards them. I remember that story because she was telling me it wounded like a waterfall as the fire was engulfing the brush. Somersaulting down a steep hill and it not being on purpose. Like I said, unforgettable stories and memories. That summer of 2015 was like a war zone in California. I remember always making sure I was in front of the TV on time for the local news. I followed Cal Fire on twitter too. If she were in camp, I wanted to get an idea of where she might go or how bad it was wherever she was at. We could only guess where she was, obviously she couldn’t tell you. Some of the fires she went on in 2015, North Fire, Rough Fire, Cabin Fire. Shovels, picks, chainsaws. She did all. She is amazing to me. The toughest person I’ve ever known. I have so much respect for all the inmate firefighters. You don’t hear a lot about them. But, they are such a big part of the effort. Kelly won’t talk much about everything she did. It’s not because she’s embarrassed, it’s because she doesn’t like to talk about herself or “brag”. It’s just not her style. She gave so much, sometimes I wish she would. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

CA Innocence Project - UPDATE Justice has been served!!

This is a great story, and I am truly so happy for Kimberly justice has now finally been served! 

I met Kimberly at CIW she was one of my trainers for Fire Camp, she always had a smile and was so positive, she lost 7 years of her life because of our corrupt and broken system; the DA just wants a conviction they don't care who it is as long as they can make their high conviction rate.

I remember Kimberly saying how she was sad and depressed that first year, coming to the realization that she was in prison possibly for the rest of her life. She was down but not out, she picked her self-up and dusted herself off and decided to make the best out of her situation, she got transferred to CIW and worked hard to get the job as one of the trainers for the Fire Camp program. As a trainer she was an inspiration and a bight light of hope for a lot of women.

https://californiainnocenceproject.org/read-their-stories/kimberly-long

Wishing Kimberly the best, and supporting the hard work of the dedicated men and women at the Innocence Project in San Diego! www.californiainnocenceproject.org


The happiest people don't have the best of everything they just make the most of everything....



Thursday, June 9, 2016

Life After Prison for a CA Mom

You've done your time. You sat in prison, you fought wildfires for $1.00 an hour, did your parole and finished your probation. You went and landed a job. Prison hadn't changed you, you still worked very hard. Your company loved you. 7 months in, a rumor, word of mouth, a gossiper let that company know about your past. Even though you checked that "box", it didn't matter. "Your position is too visible, we have to let you go" Life after Prison for a CA Mom. 
Another obstacle. Was it a fluke that she got the job or how she lost it ? Was she too visible to upper management ? She worked in an office for God's sake. What is the actual penalty here ? Does the prison time not matter ? How about the time away from her kids ? Restitution ? "Let me be a tax paying citizen. Let me be in the workforce. Why would you want me on government assistance ?" Society is just not ready to accept that felons are human still. They have made mistakes AND have paid for it. If they are willing to work, why can't they ? Her company thought she was amazing until they found out about her past. She is a non-violent felon. Honestly, this is all new for us. We were naive. Too trusting I suppose. 
Now, we start over, again. Looking for that second, second chance. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Mothers Day 2016

Every time any sort of "holiday" or "special day" comes around, I think about last year. It's Mother's Day this time. My Wife was at CIW / Fire Camp. Living her new life on her Unwanted Vacation. At least at CIW we could still talk and visit a couple of times a month. I can remember Kelly telling me about all the women she met there that were just like her. Some of the first time offenders . Drugs, DUI, stealing. The ones that always hit me hard were the Mom's that were doing anything they could to help their families. Even it were stealing. Yes, it was against the law. But, they felt there was no other place to turn. There are those people who refuse to listen to the real reason why some of these crimes were being committed. Being in the courtroom as the Prosecutor paints a picture of a monster that cares about no one and only stole to steal. These women that were caught are really paying the ultimate price. For Kelly, she kept a low profile. She wasn't involved in any violent incidences. But, for her and the other Mom's in there, it was being away from their families. That, is the punishment and it is a tough one. I can remember visiting and just watching other inmates interact with their kids. It got to me so bad. Tears would flow. There are those people out there that still just feel that if you have committed a crime, you're almost sub-human to them. If they could see what I have seen on those visiting days, maybe, just maybe a small percentage would think differently. I am not asking for a change in the "law" or reduced sentences. But, maybe for "kid friendly" programs. When Kelly was in receiving (Classification) for 4 months, there was NO contact. No, phone calls or visits. It was torture for all of us, but especially for our kids. It was a very pivotable year for them. We did get her letters, but not hearing her voice or letting them feel that hug from their Mama was so hard. Even though her receiving was 6 hours away, we would have made the drive. I just don't understand why it has to be that way. I tried to ask questions to the DOC, but "That's the way it is". I will continue to ask those questions and will never stop either.
It's crazy how similar a lot of these women are. Made that one mistake that changed everything in their lives. But, it was awesome to hear how they gravitated towards each other. Making drawings for their kids and mailing them to make sure they got there on the right date. Or at least trying. Sharing pictures with each other. Giving them hope. Making the best of a tough situation.
Mother's Day 2016 is very different than a year ago. But, the memories are still there. The hurt is still there, but fading. I will always be grateful for those "Mom's" that helped Kelly and I know she will never forget them. Happy Mother's Day.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Days We Want to Forget....

The Days we want to forget….

It’s been a few months now that my Wife has been home from prison and my family has been put back together. As expected, it’s been tough. But, not anything close as when she went in. The heartache and fear we had when she was sentenced was beyond anything we have ever felt. Being a Father of two kids and trying to be there mentally as much as I could for them was very difficult. It was very hard to keep them strong when I was so devastated. But, as parents, we learn to do anything for our kids. The way I looked at it, my kids kept me strong. Just making sure they were ok, was a full time job. After time, we bonded. Stronger than ever before. I am beyond grateful for that. We look back on the time my Wife was gone and think of everything we did and accomplished. Those memories are incredible. Getting through school, sports, even going off to college. But, there were so many days we wanted to forget. Questions where their Mom was. Is she sick? Cancer? Did you get a divorce? Being terrified their friends would find out. Going to doctor / dentist appointments and explaining why we didn’t have insurance anymore. A few of the visits, dealing with clerks and or correctional officers treating us like we were the criminals. Yeah, it sucked. Like the time we saw my Wife at CIW (California Institute for Women) for the first time in 4 months. We drove 2 hours to get there to find out she was not allowed a contact visit yet. So, we saw her through a 12”x12” window. They had her in a caged box. About 3ft wide and six ft tall. That was probably one of the worst memories I had. The visits did get better. I think our skin got thicker too. We saw her a few times at CIW. But when she was transferred for Fire camp (Rainbow), everything changed. The visits were great, the staff was nice, and the visiting area was very nice. The hardest part about Fire camp for us was, when she was called on a fire, you never knew when she’d be back. Plus, fire season in California is no joke. So, on my part, there was a lot of worry. But, you could get a lot of info through social media and the news. But, again, we all made it through it. That was her last stop being incarcerated. 
It took her about a month to get settled at home. She would tell you it was less, but it did take that long. After the joy of being home started to wear off, reality came crashing in. I could tell she was depressed. Where do I go from here? Will I ever have a career again? How can I help at home like I used to? The paranoia she’d have when she’d hear a siren or someone opening the gate to our yard. We also had to cope with the idea of Probation coming by and going through our house at will. That still hasn’t happened, but we were told a few times that they would. We were very psyched out. It was tough, especially with the Holidays a month away. Honestly though, once we got through the holidays, we were able to settle in. 

By some miracle, my Wife landed a job through a staffing agency. Not really sure how it happened, but I don’t want to question it. We seem to be on the road to recovery. We accept that there are memories that we will never forget, no matter how bad we want to. But, sharing these experiences can help others. Not to sound too corny, but there is hope. In these situations, I think some people coming out of prison look to the government to help them. That’s not going to happen. That’s where people that were in the same situation that they are in can help. The days we want to forget can help those that are living them now.